The Rhino Summit

Pretoria South Africa. April 8th and 9th 2014.

Two days, dozens of experts – lawyers, economists, rangers, land owners, conservationists, veterinarians, broadcasters, investigators, policy analysts, campaigners, wildlife trade specialists… An equal number of high quality presentations to an audience of over 130.

There was no stone unturned at the Pretoria Risk Assessment of Rhino Horn Trade Symposium hosted by OSCAP (Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching).

Over 400 years of experience, represented by the Panel, pretty much nailed the ‘pro trade’ argument from every angle.

Despite invitations, the South African government did not turn up and neither did the Professional Hunters Association nor did any of the individual pro-trade advocates.

What were they afraid of? The truth?

Of course, rhino conservation is extremely challenging – the wave of poachers coming in from all sides, especially Mozambique, but undoubtedly supported by South African counterparts. The financial burden on private rhino owners who are desperately trying to find ways to fund the massive additional costs of improved security. The trauma and distress of losing two or more rhino a day and the sheer horror of patching up the bloody faces of the survivors who live, disfigured, to tell the tale.

Everyone agreed that rhino horn was of no medicinal or other value. Unanimity!

Whichever way you look at it, proposals to legalise a trade in rhino horn, as proposed by the South African government, are irrational, ill-conceived and massively risky. They could turn a disaster into a crisis from which the wild rhino may never recover.

But, of course, if legal trade is not the answer, then what is?

I suggested a conservation ‘levy’ on every international citizen arriving into South Africa. A dedicated fund, only available to be spent directly on endangered species such as the rhino, and administered by a trust fund involving key stakeholders. At just $5 a passenger that could generate around US$20 million a year, every year, for endangered species conservation priorities.

Others advocated stronger support for law enforcement; training for the judiciary; better control of powerful tranquillising drugs now being used by poachers to silently immobilise and then kill their victims; more effective outreach to local communities to encourage them to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the conservation movement; direct appeals to political leaders in consumer States to step up and take a stand; intensification of public awareness efforts in those same consumer States to drive down and, if possible, eliminate demand.

There is much to do – but I believe it can be done.

However, it will all continue to go the hell in a handcart if the South African authorities carry on promoting the idea of a legal trade and those people who stand to make a killing continue to speculate on that prospect.

It seems crystal clear to me. No trade. None at all. Drop the subject. And let’s all get round the table together and find the lasting, effective solutions to rhino conservation that are so urgently needed.

Conservation not consumption – that has to be our aim!

Blogging off


6 Responses to “The Rhino Summit”

  1. Gill Gilbey Says:

    It does not bode well for the rhinos if the SA government were not prepared to talk.

  2. DAVID Says:

    Hi Will, I think the $5 a passenger is an excellent idea. Hope it will some day happen, and the money can go to protect all the wildlife in Africa.

  3. Patrick Shepherd Says:

    Please guys we and animals can live in peace.

  4. Lori Sirianni Says:

    Thank you for providing a brilliant solution to funding the anti-poaching efforts in SA to save the rhino. What a simple solution that would provide funds for rhino owners, sanctuaries, and the government so there would be NO need to legalize trade in rhino horn (which would be an utter catastrophe for rhinos, just like the one-off sales of ivory have proven to be). African nations need to value tourism far above any corruption, and certainly far above the income made from mentally deranged individuals who feel the need to trophy-hunt Africa’s rhinos, elephants or other Big 5. The sickening slaughter of a few animals to provide funds to conserve the rest (if any of those funds actually DO go towards conservation, which is in doubt) is at best an immoral, unethical sale of irreplaceable lives for money. At worst, it’s whoring one’s own country to the rich white elite of another nation.

  5. Una Barras-Hargan Says:

    How can they legalize the trade in something which has no true value the second it is removed from the rhino? Surely rhino horn is not theirs to trade, no more than it is that of the poachers’ or their employers. They don’t have the right to sell it, whether it’s old or new horn, and they would be selling a commodity under false pretences.

  6. Cherry Gordon Says:

    There is no silver bullet solution to the rhino horn problem. Many are advocating the use of some pesticide injected directly into the horn. This I feel is a very unwise solution – as there has not been enough study done on the long term effects of this. Talking does not seem to help – the suggestion of people entering South Africa pay a wildlife tax – will go some way to raising much needed funds – but this must always be a very transparent system, and every cent spent must be shown. More importantly money is needed to either re-train park rangers or start campaigning to try and bring new untainted people in to be trained in the proper fashion, and more importantly they must be able to meet the poachers head on with like for like equipment.